O: But mama, I miss my friends. How am I supposed to feel happy without people that are not you and dad?
Jim and I are loners. We really enjoy solitude. We are often overwhelmed by large groups. We are happiest at home. We will make plans, with people we genuinely like, then have to give each other pep talks in order to get out the door. One of the reasons I knew that he and I would be good partners, was that we figured out, very early on, how to be alone, together.
Somehow, in spite of her parents, O is a social animal. She loves being around people. She thrives at school and in large groups. She can talk to and befriend anyone. I think she takes after my dad. After a few days at home without outside contact, she is climbing the walls, craving that interaction and stimulation from her peers. Honestly, I am in awe of her at times, her energy for people, her empathy, and her complete willingness to see everyone as a potential friend.
My best guess is that in the neighborhoods of yesteryear, or maybe even still, on the streets of small towns, this kind of thing works itself out. The introverted parents attend the requisite number of community functions and then retreat to their shag-carpeted dens to read science fiction, while their extroverted off-spring wander from house to house in a neighborhood of best friends, a full-social calendar achieved with very little effort. Los Angeles, however, is the land of the playdate, a culture where having parents with some mild social anxiety can seriously conflict with the filling of a tiny person's dance card.
O has forced me outside of my comfort zone more times than I can count, and in trying to act in her best interest and respond to her needs, I have found myself, inadvertently acting in my own best interest. Because I recognize in her a need for community, I found one for myself as well. That community of friends, of other parents, of other children, has become invaluable to me, and my sanity. It is yet another reminder that these tiny humans we are living with come with their own wants, needs, and passions that we might not be able to fully grasp or comprehend. Yet, if we can step back and try to learn about them, we might learn something about ourselves as well.
A special thank you to all of those families who have endured my awkward behavior at playdates over the past three years, and I owe a debt of love and gratitude to O for helping me find my community that I didn't even know I needed.